29 Nov. 2006
SETI League
PriUPS Project

An Embarrassment of Shrimp

I'm writing this quickly, right after dinner.  I'm doing so because if I allow common sense to overtake me I shall change my mind.  Once I commit to a specific blog date, I'm less likely to waver, no matter how much wiser it may seem to do so.  Why?  Well, this is embarrassing, I think, although I'm not quite sure why.

It was my pleasure to sit at table this evening with three companions.  While we gossiped, we tucked into a yummy repast of shrimp, peas, and cylindrical pasta bias-cut into non-precision 1.5 inch lengths, all covered (but not smothered) in a sauce which seemed to have an onionic theme and a creamy consistency.  Although it appeared that each of our portions was roughly the same size, when we had completed the meal, one of us chanced to notice that the shrimp were not allotted proportionally to the respective diners.  Specifically, and this was determined by precise count of the remanent shrimp carapaces, two of us (myself included) had received seven shrimp.  One received eight.  But the final diner had a stunning 13 ex-shrimp in her bowl!

45+ Years Ago...

I was dining with a friend at my ancestral home, parental units about but not with us while we ate.  The meal was shrimp and some persuasion of pasta, perhaps a more flexible type such as spaghetti.  I confess that my memory of this long-ago meal is somewhat diffuse except, of course, for the shrimp.  I noted that my plate bore a greater number of shrimp than did that of my dining companion and told him that I would petition my mother for an additional portion.  I returned sans crustaceans.  It seems that we had no more shrimp, and the above-noted disparity was caused by unaccountable parental favoritism.  I was even chided for having offered my guest more without confirming availability, and was appropriately embarrassed at being unable to fulfill my mission.

I am not one given to ruminations about my childhood.  Remarkable, I think, that this would pop into my alleged mind after this evening's incident.

Back to the Present

How does one account for the disparity in shrimp-count?  The meal had been prepared in a capacious utensil in which all the ingredients were commingled and presumably well-mixed; the 7,7,8 distribution to the other diners offers mute testimony.  Furthermore, the cook and the recipient were not the same person nor did they bear an unseemly affiliation.  Did the shrimp somehow huddle together despite roiling by the spoon?  Did the cook/food dispenser have a sudden spasm of favoritism, much as my mom must have done those decades ago?  Or was this a statistical fluke?  Alas, I was neither present at the dispensing nor did I notice the disparity until the meal was consumed and any attempt at understanding the original geometry would have been doomed.

Once the situation was called to our attention, more than a little speculation and debate ensued. Some might be surprised by this, since the combined ages of the four of us comfortably exceeded 200 years.  When does one finally become a grown-up?  Should I have been embarrassed about the shrimp incident of my youth?  Or about this most recent one?  Both?  Neither?  Or about writing about it?  "Shrimp" is the quintessential synonym for something small, or a trifle.  Have I gone on about this too long?  Should I shut up n

Richard Factor

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